At-large incumbent Vincent Orange (D) and hopeful Robert White discuss the issues plaguing D.C. at a forum in Ward 8 April 9. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)

A lively and spirited crowd came together April 9 at the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Anacostia to participate in a candidates’ forum. Moderated by D.C. Jobs with Justice Executive Director Nikki Lewis, the forum for D.C. Council Ward 8 and At-Large seat candidates focused on maintaining affordable housing, fighting energy companies that dump waste into the Anacostia River, and challenging businesses to offer a livable wage to residents.

For At-Large hopeful Robert White, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Vincent Orange (D), the forum was an opportunity to make the grassroots connections he believes are necessary to effectively advocate for District residents. “This is about my family and your family and we can see that it is no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines and expect things to get done,” White said. “I want to ensure that people are able to live with dignity no matter where they reside in the city. Students who live in Barry Farms should be afforded the same educational opportunities as those in Ward 1, and I want to be your voice on the Council.”

Positioning Southeast, and specifically the Anacostia area, as a sort of modern-day last frontier, Orange insisted that strong leadership was needed to prepare residents for the expected transitions coming to the area. “All roads lead to Southeast and no one is going to save us, but us, so we must have someone on the Council to address the needs of the residents in this area ,” Orange told the audience. “We have to be able to get what we want and not what someone wants for us. We have to be active, engaged, and strategic about the business development and proposed housing and education coming here.”

Among actual Ward 8 candidates, Maurice Dickens, Bonita Goode, Aaron Holmes, and Trayon White were on hand fielding questions that ranged from how best to remedy Pepco’s contamination of the Anacostia River to securing more affordable housing in the area. Ward 8 council member LaRuby May (D) and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Christopher Hawthorne, who are also candidates for the seat, did not attend the forum.

“This forum has been amazing in opening my eyes to just how ill-informed some of the candidates are,” Anacostia resident Doris Kennedy told the AFRO. “A lot of them have great messages, but when these real-time questions are posed them, they are having trouble answering with conviction. I owned my home, and I’m college educated, so my needs are less about affordable housing than getting a Whole Foods, Trader Vic’s, or other major grocer in my neighborhood. Whoever is elected has to do the bidding of all its residents, not just those who are struggling.”

Primary elections for the city are scheduled for June 14 and general elections are scheduled to be held on November 8.